WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB) — Though they were born five years apart, the deaths of Nolan Birch and Brian Zaprowski came within months in 2014.
Briarhurst Park in Williamsville was their home away from home — Brian played and taught tennis on its courts, and Nolan caught behind its home plate.
And so it was fitting their community erected a memorial there in their name.
Earlier this week, vandals destroyed that memorial, sending a shock to their still grieving families.
“All we have left are the memories of our two sons, and this tree signifies that memory and it affected us deeply to see that somebody could destroy it,” said Beth Zaprowski.
Two families, joined first in friendship and then in grief.
“The Burches have been our close friends for the past 12 years,” Beth said.
“The two of us families have really been through a lot,” said Kim Burch. “I don’t know what I would have done without them. They’re family. They’ve been a huge support.”
Beth and Scott Zeprowski lost their son Brian in September of 2014 to an diagnosed, but genetic, heart condition. Kim Burch lost her son Nolan to a hazing incident at West Virginia just months later.
Members of a local middle school and others from the community bought and planted a tree, and added a simple plaque.
“There’s a tennis racquet representing Brian and a baseball representing Nolan,” Scott said.
Added his wife: “It just reminds us, every time we see it, of happy times. Of happy times with the Burch family, of happy times with Nolan and Brian. It’s a nice place to visit to remember the boys.”
A quiet spot carved from the courts and fields they once loved.
“When I got to the site, the tree was completely uprooted and laying off to the side here,” Kim said. “And the monument of the boys was out, and just laying on the side.”
Vandals also tagged playground equipment, and left beer bottles and cans strewn about.
“This hurt bad. This hurt,” Kim said. “This hurt our families, our friends, our community. This isn’t our neighborhood. This was disturbing. I know teenagers can be teenagers, but this goes beyond a teenage prank. This was hurtful.
“We’re trying to get our lives back together after losing a child,” she said. “And this doesn’t help.”
Police still aren’t sure who vandalized the park. But the town acted quickly to fix it, so the families and community can once again remember two young men taken too soon.